Florida Does It Again
Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen, move over - Florida reality continues to trump fantasy and novelistic legerdemain. Perhaps it's the effect of earthquakes and oil spills (the recent anniversary of the BP disaster) but strangeness pervades the state. Some weeks ago five teenagers in Silver Springs Shore snorted the remains of two Great Danes convinced they would get high, and then dumped the results in Love, Joy, and Magic Lake.
Maybe something is hiding in the water supply. The homeowners of a small community in Silver Springs now wish to ban children from playing outdoors. Their stated reason - safety. Fines of $100 will be leveled on transgressive tykes.
Particularly disliked by the homeowners association are games of tag, "loud or obnoxious toys," that perennial plaything of deviltry - skateboarding, and, somewhat inevitably, Big Wheels. As one board member explains "They came in and rented in a community that does not have a playground and is not conducive to children. Then they expect the children to play in the driveways and parking lot. You wouldn't see them playing the parking lot at Walmart or Kmart."
Perhaps someone will point out to board member Kim Scott that employees don't live inside Walmart with their families.
What's Really Happening
At first glance this appears a story of how local people really hate children. Yet much of what is going on is the result of Florida's ongoing meltdown, a full blown, financial crisis-provoked economic depression that most refuse to call by its real name. Communities that would otherwise try to make themselves "adult only" with no inhabitant aged less than 55 now find they can't readily survive without inviting in younger folks. They resent that situation, and then make rules to try and get rid of their new neighbors - without "legally" bidding them goodbye.
The tactic won't work. People living in the community will fight being forced to leave their kids inside. Yet this incident does demonstrate how many communities fail to see improving the health of their members as a neighborhood goal.
The United States, as a nation, does very much same. We don't even mention public health in national debates - we just talk about the cost of health care. Instead we should debate the costs of preserving and improving health. Which brings up some of the many reasons for kids to play outside:
The Nature of Human Nature
Kids need to play outdoors:
1. To foster a sense of community. Neighborhoods need act like communities, where there are young and old and people who need not all look the same. The Silver Springs community vote speaks to the desire to exclude - and perhaps involves more than worries about noisy kids. Societies that are close knit and have strong social ties produce longer lived citizens. That includes the longest lived group on earth, Asian-American women in Suffolk County.
2. To prevent obesity - with 20% of children in America obese, you really must let them play outside. High fructose corn syrup and misguided national food policies are part of the reason, but lack of physical activity by a generation entranced by cell phones and electronic media is now setting up a future diabetes epidemic. We will all pay for the giant health care bills that result, and the decreased economic productivity of a large part of the work force.
3. Improve immunity. Kids who play in the dirt get less asthma, and seem to be more immunologically robust - which may help prevent other immunological based illnesses like MS.
4. Make friends. Human social cohesion starts in the womb. Kids need to meet other kids and other adults, so they can play with those their own age and model their behavior on those older and hopefully wiser.
5. Enjoy play. Going outside means a whole new environment - and the freedom and creativity that brings.
6. Get involved in sports - good for overall health. Children are ingenious, and can play in circumscribed places - as they do all over the world.
7. Sunlight - yes, it makes for more skin cancer, but sunlight also enhances mood and resets biological clocks that have been rearranged by children spending so much time indoors engaged with electronic media.
Adults and Kids
Are adults required to be around when kids play? Of course. But they need not always be their parents. Remember days when your neighbors knew you? When other mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers enjoyed watching the neighborhood's kids?
We need to return to such forms of social enjoyment - for all our sakes.